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Zune, Cooley and CNET's useless rating system

I'm listening to CNET's Brian Cooley this morning on KNX news radio and I'm a little puzzled at what's coming out of his mouth.

He was fielding a lot of questions about MP3 players, including the Zune. It was a puzzling commentary where he seemed to be going out of his way to find the one or two things that DON'T suck about the Zune and focusing on them - e.g. a slightly bigger screen and an interface that he prefers (though to call it "better" than the iPod's is highly subjective for those who actually prefer the latter).

Very little mention was made of the Software/Hardware synergy that REALLY makes the Zune a stinker for most people. Sure, there are better hardware options on the market than the iPod but the iPod/Itunes "system" is what makes it a no-brainer to most people.

He's talking up these minor points, making the Zune sound like a decent product and then he turns around and says "But Microsoft never gets anything right the first time - it takes them three tries like with Internet Explorer." So does it suck or not, Brian?

Then there's CNET's rating system. Nearly EVERYTHING gets an 8, plus or minus 0.3 points. You are honestly telling me that the Zune review (which had BETTER include it's software/download interface) is only 0.3 points below the iPod and other better MP3 players on the market?

I understand CNET's efforts to try and be fair with its reviews but by all accounts - including Cooly's own words... sometimes - it is a bad first effort. You leave your audience (at least this audience member) scratching its head sometimes, CNET.

Now defend yourselve! Happy

-Kevin S.

PS I prefer the in-depth reviews CNET does of each product but I really wish they'd stop with the whole numbers thing. It really is in no way useful.

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Rating System Gone Wrong

In reply to: Zune, Cooley and CNET's useless rating system

I have not personally set sight on a Zune yet, but what I have seen thus far isn't that bad. The screen is better, but I don't know if that really makes a difference. Obviously many people don't watch movies on their handheld devices. Speaking from experience, I personally ripped a few movies onto my laptop's [iBook G4, October 2005) hard drive, and put them on my iPod (5gen 60gb black), and I could not bring myself to actually sit down and watch them. Sure you can take it on the go with you on a train-maybe that is good enough for a television show- but not to watch full length movies. You could instead watch them on a laptop or television set. But I did find the interface of the iPod to be very simple, yet too simple. If the Zune is customizable with the backgrounds and menu effects, then it sure would be more easily customized. Yet, unfortunately, the case of the Zune is [in my opinion] ugly. Reportedly, you can't even buy music all that easily for it...even though I very rarely use the iTunes music store for anything. So here it goes. The Zune has stepped up a bit, but is far from finished in my opinion. I would gander is is the closest to competing with the iPod, just because iTunes on Windows seems to run slow and if done correctly... could very well compete with compatibility for Windows users in comparison to the Mac OS X/iTunes/iPod combo.

So what does all this mean? The rating shouldn't be anywhere near the iPod at this moment. I would give it a 4 or 5 for being "half-way there". Does this mean Cnet is skewed? Absolutely not. They are probably looking at the potential factor that the device will have, once they get the kinks out of buggy software. Will I be ditching my iPod anytime soon? Again, absolutely not. Not because I am a fanboy, but because I have yet to find a product that works as simple, and consistently than my own setup. This is something that hurts Microsoft in all levels of their products. However, I will be looking into Windows Vista when it comes out, but for some reason I feel the new Mac OS will be further ahead of the game.

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The ratings should "float"

In reply to: Rating System Gone Wrong

A numerical system from 1 to 10 is inherently flawed. If a product is given an "8" in a review and then something comes along that is twice as good, where do you go? To "10?" What happens then if something comes along better than the "10?"

The whole review system in its current form just can't work. Different people also do the reviews so one person's subjective evaluation can be dramatically different from another.

Maybe if the number floated or something and they updated it relative to all the products it is currently competing with, it might be a more useful system. But still, that subjective evaluation is always going to get in the way.

-Kevin S.

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The problem with that, though...

In reply to: The ratings should "float"

Say Cnet reviewd Mac OS X Cheetah back in 2001 when it was released and gave it a perfect 10 for bing the most innovative and advanced operating system yet. Now, let us assume that this Spring Cnet reviews Mac OS X Leopard and gives it a perfect 10 for similar reasons. Do you expect Cnet to go back and re-review every edition of Mac OS X, its predacessors, and all versions of Windows to reduce the scores and complain that they are not as good as newer versions of the operating systems? Ten years from now you could expect to see the review begin by saying: "Mac OS X 10.0 (Cheetah): One of the worst operating systems ever!" and at the bottom in small print "When compared to Mac OS X 11.9 (Wildcat)."

Yes, I am stretching it but it is in essence what would have to happen. Remember, there are still millions of people running Windows 98, Mac OS X 10.0, etc and who look to these reviews for guidance as to what to purchase on E-bay. In the world of second-hand items, all products that are still functional continue to compete with the latest and greatest at some level. Thus, there could be no clear cut-off point where editors could stop updating reviews, meining it would go on indefinitely.

In short, I support the current system of ratings, which is not only used by Cnet but most others as well. You just have to stop and consider three things:
1.) The number represents the device when compared to the current standard, not the lone latest and greatest device.
2.) You must take into consideration the age of the product/review...a 2007 Ford Mustang will beat out a 1910 Ford Model T almost every time.
3.) There is a full review for a reason...no one can make an informed decision based on a single numerical score.

John

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It depends on the perspective

In reply to: Zune, Cooley and CNET's useless rating system

I can't speak for Brian Cooley or specifically on what he said about the Zune. Heck, I can't even give my personal opinion on the Zune, since I haven't seen it north of the 49th yet.

However...

It is possible that Brian was talking to the "positives" of the Zune for a less technical audience. I don't know where KNX broadcasts from, but people who get their product information from radio and television are typically less technologically sophisticated than Internet users and hardcore geeks.

What you feel is a deal breaker for the Zune might not be an issue to a less sophistcated user who is not already invested in an MP3 player or online music service. Speaking to DRM and marketplace ecosystems is something that matters to the technologically-inclined, but would cause the eyes of many to glaze over.

What the non-tech savvy user wants to know is whether it is easy to use, how much music it can support, and whether or not it's easy to get music onto the device (regardless of whether it's from an online service or what has already been stored on the computer). I would suggest, based on your comments of his "review", is that he was addressing that segment of the audience.

Seriously, do you think that someone who watches Regis & Kelly will give a rat's patootie about DRM?

I could be wrong, but it would be a waste of your time trying to prove it. Wink

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An analogy

In reply to: It depends on the perspective

Good point about the audience. But it actually goes straight to what irked me about Cooley's comments. Ease of use with regard to an MP3 player is heavily dependent upon getting music to and from it and by all accounts, Microsoft's solution currently stinks.

As I've mentioned in the past, there were plenty of MP3 players before the iPod came along but what made the market (specifically iPods) explode was the seamless iTunes/iPod integration.

If I may make an analogy... Microsoft is like a really bad sculptor with a ton of money. It sculpts something that is usually really awful. It then has people telling it what it should do to make it better or even eventually copies the work of better artists until the sculpture almost looks good. Then, it dumps that on the market at a price that eventually attracts people who will settle for "good enough" rather than a fine piece of art.

So yeah, I think Microsoft will eventually "get it right" but it irks me that people like Cooley think it's acceptable for Microsoft to push its crap onto people for two generations until they eventually make it "good enough." If it's not good enough at the moment, SAY SO, instead of in one breath saying this is great and that's great and it's a decent product to buy and in the next saying "Microsoft always takes 3 tries to get it right." Bah!

-Kevin S.

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